Art will eat itself

14 March 2010

At the South London GaArt-binllery, it is the last day for Art Bin a show by Michael Landy. The space is taken up by a huge transparent skip into which the public are invited to throw works of unwanted art (having first signed a lengthy disclaimer). The collection of unwanted paintings, collages, photographs and sculptures contains work by Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin, included perhaps to give some credibility to the idea that Landy is not only artist but curator. Apparently by doing this he draws attention (whose?) to “the complexities surrounding the acquisition and de-accessioning of art works.”

Not surprisingly, I was attracted by the idea of a work of art made up of works of art but the realisation is a disappointment. Even watching a woman throwing canvases frisbee style across the abyss into the detritus below felt like watching some sad and futile ritual, as hollow and half-hearted as an unhappy couple clinking glasses of flat champagne on their anniversary. Far from, as the blurb claims, provoking fresh questions around disposal, destruction, value and ownership, Landy fails to say anything remotely subversive or challenging. It may be big, but it’s not clever.

The idea of art-using-rubbish transformed into art-about-art may have been  by Marcel Duchamp in 1917. Duchamp brilliantly entered a urinal for an exhibition, turned ninety degrees from it’s standard postion, signed it ‘R. Mutt’ and gave it the title ‘Fountain’.

Tracey Emin displayed ‘My Bed’ as part of her display for the Turner Prize in 1999 which included “Empty booze bottles, fag butts, stained sheets… the bloody aftermath of a nervous breakdown.”

Why I like “My Bed” so much is that everyone knows that Emin’s work is completely self-obsessed — what could be more self-referential and self-consciously, self-denigratingly humorous, than  a self-confessed narcisist exhibiting her bed,  along with a time-slice of the debris of a lifetime. Well, maybe the bed plus Tracey Emin still inside it.

Landy came to fame with his 2001 installation Break Down when he catalogued all his possessions and then systematically destroyed them including his car, and most daringly, his birth certificate.  If he had wanted to do something really provocative, Landy could have auctioned his possessions or maybe art stolen from a corporate collection on E-bay and given the funds to, say, those exposing Trafigura’s toxic dumping crimes.  Wouldn’t that have done a better job of raising issues around disposal, destruction, value and ownership.

But of course Landy’s ‘practice’ is not about change. It’s just a metaphor for recycling  the old, the tired, the clichéd and the superfluous. A metaphor for itself in other words.

It’s not that all examples of  the avant garde cannot possess the sense of depth that Trewism recently described so eloquently. Work that breaks down established ideas about art show that destruction can be creative. But Landy by appropriating the form without the content, reducing subversion to fashion statement, functions as a double-agent, re-presenting the art establishment, leaving things as they are.

Art-Bin closed at six o’clock today. You didn’t miss much.

Post Script

I thought of framing a photo of the whole work and then applying to throw it in. But although that would be in the true spirit of recursion, it would also be playing along. So instead, we at Recursively Recursive are planning a mass trespass event  tonight, entering the South London Gallery to liberate the art-works held captive in Landy’s bin. We shall then be redistributing them to White Cube, Haunch of Venison and other gallery spaces around the capital. Come join us! STOP PRESS — Following advice from our legal department, RR has decided to cancel this proposed action. We wish it to be known that this proposal was made in a spirit of light-hearted humour and was never intended to be taken seriously. If anyone has a better idea though…


6 Responses to “Art will eat itself”

  1. trewisms Says:

    I think it’s a real shame that your legal department has come down so hard on your proposed action. I was looking forward to hearing its results. All this sort of health-and-safety, let’s-not-get-sued, fear-of-getting-arrested quibbling is suffocating serious art criticism.
    Seriously, though, I dislike any sort of art where the conceptual element has trumped any sort of aesthetic, such as here. Art should be multi-dimensional – it’s the first step towards inducing vertigo- but a lot of ‘conceptual’ art is one-dimensional at best. Once you’ve got the message behind these works – and they aren’t subtle- there’s nothing left to think about.

  2. Rick Kershun Says:

    What you’re pointing to is something like what’s been called the “wow factor” in architecture. First impressions bowl you over and then…your stuck with an ugly and poorly designed building that isn’t fit for purpose. (see for when the rot set in.)

    Perhaps both cases express the zeitgeist of attention-grabbing mediocrity and so it’s not a problem that’s restricted to conceptual art or even an inherent quality of it. In as much as you can bracket them under such a vague term as conceptual art, Cornelia Parker and Richard Long both produce work that appeals to deeper aesthetic sensibilities.

    To stretch a metaphor rather, it’s like the difference between taking care of our physical & emotional well-being and complying with health & safety.

  3. cpsinclair Says:

    Recursion by its very nature can be degenerative. “A work of art made up of works of art” is a shining example of how recursion can be degenerative.
    From cpsinclair:

    • rickkurshen Says:

      I don’t deny degenerative recursion but I doubt whether this is an example of it. As an art-establishment insider, Landy doesn’t even qualify as degenerate — in the positive sense in which I am using it.

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